Though most of the horrors you’ll see in the art on these pages are imaginary, like movie monsters and fantasy creatures, some horrors are quite real, and we occasionally need to stop an remind ourselves of them.
For those in other parts of the world, I’ll mention that today is Memorial Day here in the U.S. Though it’s a day associated with barbecues, trips to the beach and the unofficial start of Summer; it is a holiday created to honor those who have lost their lives in military service over the course of the nation’s history.
In recent years, much of that observance has focused on World War II, the surviving veterans of which are at an age where those who remember the war directly are rapidly shrinking in number.
It occurred to me to look back at another generation to the previous large scale conflict, World War I, from which there are fewer surviving witnesses, mostly those who were children at the time, but enough to remember that the horrors of war don’t diminish with distance in the past.
Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson was a British artist, associated with the Futurist movement and the less well known Vorticists, who became an official war artist in 1917. The Vorticists were a short lived but influential group of British artists who took the geometric latticework of Cubism and Futurism and sent it whirling through their interpretation of motion in the painted image.
Nevinson brought the fractured dynamics of the group’s style to the portrayal of scenes from “The War to End All Wars”, at first in service of the image the government wanted to portray; but eventually, from his experience as an ambulance driver, in a revulsive response to the atrocities of war.
His painting Paths of Glory, in which the stylized angles of Vorticism are abandoned for a more direct approach, (above) was initially banned by the military censors, but Nevinson managed to display it during the war outside of official channels.
Nevinson was one of the artists chosen to paint large works for the Imperial War Museum’s Hall of Remembrance; where his painting Harvest of Battle hangs along with John Singer Sargent’s famous Gassed (see my post on Art of War).
Art depicting the horror or war is not often brought to the fore, even in museums where major pieces are part of the collection, so it often falls to places like the Hall of Remembrance to keep it on display.
Actually, it’s up to us to look up and remember the images with which artists have tried to impress on us the inhumanity and tragedy of war, particularly when we are asking our friends, neighbors or sons and daughters to face it for any reason.